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The Capital Between The Ranges

Hugh and Colleen Gantzer journey through the enchanting valley - between the ranges and the rivers - the best-known of the doons of the Himalayas

The Cable Car soaring up to Mansa Devi Temple

The Birth Of The Doon
Once upon a long and legendary time, when the fires of creation still spouted in the mountains, a river ran through this valley. It was, they say, the greatest of all the rivers of our land. It drained the waters of the ancient Tethys sea as it was thrust up into the sky by the restless uplifting of the Himalayas. And as the sea cascaded down the rising mountains, it ate into them, carried away rocks and sediment, piled them up as debris on its far banks, deepened and widened this broad and fertile valley at the bottom.

The Himalayas still rise to the north of the valley. The debris, impacted and pushed up by the forces of earth, have become the Shiwalik Range to the south of the river valley. The great river has split into three: the Ganga to the east, the Yamuna to the west, the Saraswati flowing secretly underground. The luscious green valley, between the ranges and the rivers, is the best-known of the ‘doons’ of the majestic Himalayas. In 1675, Guru Ram Rai, son of the Sikh Guru Har Rai, set up his settlement or ‘dehra’ here. Since then, the town in the valley has been known as Dehradun.

This fertile sub-Himalayan bowl had changed hands many times till, finally, the might of the East India Company defeated the occupying Gurkhas in 1814. The British then developed the Doon as a haven for retired folk, an exile for a few political prisoners, the headquarters of some government institutions and a base for the hill-station of Mussoorie.

(Left) An aerial view of Har-ki-Pauri in Haridwar

Dehradun - The Capital
In November 2000, Dehradun became the capital of the new Himalayan state of Uttaranchal.

Today, Dehradun is an 800 metre high town, alive with beetle-busy three-wheelers called ‘Vikrams’ swirling around a clock tower. This landmark stands at the entrance to the crowded Paltan Bazaar, and at one end of the long Rajpur Road that arrows up to the base of the snaking highway to Mussoorie. A web of other roads spread out serving the railway station, the Cantonment, the Indian Military Academy, the Survey of India, the Forest Research Institute, the Doon School, the Oil and Natural Gas Commission, the buildings housing the new state government, and the once-outlying colonies, settlements and villages now being absorbed into the burgeoning metropolis of the Doon.

(Right) Dehradun is a good base for pleasant excursions out of its teeming heart

Sights Worth Your While

Dehradun, as a state capital, is not, essentially, a tourist town, though it is a good base for pleasant excursions out of its teeming heart. The Forest Research Institute (FRI) has some attractive museums devoted to forestry. If history interests you, drive out a short distance to the ravine-edge of Kalunga. Here, two lonely cenotaphs commemorate those who fell in 1814 when the Doon passed from the hands of the Nepalese to those of the British.

The winding road up to Mussoorie

Of much older, and far more natural vintage, is the Place of a Myriad Fountains: Sahastradhara. This happy marriage of mountains and water is 14 kilometres out of Dehradun. There is a faint odour of exploded firecrackers from the water of the cold Sulphur springs. This, however, does not deter the bold and the beautiful from disporting in its stream.

Caves and water are an essential part of this limestone area. Five and a half kilometres from Dehra is the cave-shrine of Tapkeshwar. Here, the warrior-sage, Drona Acharya, reputedly received his weapons from Lord Shiva. Drona then set up his academy of martial arts in this hallowed place.

You could then move on to the fantasy of Robbers’ Cave, eight kilometres from town. Outside this small, but spectacular gorge, there was the ring of children’s laughter and the aroma of picnic lunches beside a mountain stream. The brook emerges from Robbers’ Cave and, when we waded in, we stepped into another world. Sunlight was caught and fractured, shimmering through a waterfall, glinting off faceted rocks and minerals, coruscating in the darkness. If the sun is at the right angle, it can be magical, if not then it’s at least like entering Harry Potter’s world!

Mussoorie Magic

There’s an even cooler world 35 winding kilometres away in 2000-metre high Mussoorie. You can pause, about two-thirds of the way up, and relax at the Jheel. Here, the civic authorities have diverted the waters of a mountain stream and let it flow through an artificial lake offering pedal boats. From the Jheel, an easy half-hour drive will bring you to Mussoorie.

This old hill-station, on the southern-facing slopes of the Himalayas, offers spectacular views of the Doon valley from much of its main road, the mall; horse-riding; being pedalled in a cycle rickshaw; views of the white peaks of the higher Himalayas on clear days; unexpected bargains from the stalls run by the Tibetans; shawls, walking sticks and souvenirs; or just breathing in the chill, unpolluted Himalayan air. Then, when you have recharged your batteries, drive out 15 kilometres along a mountain road to Kempty Falls.

The trudge down could be a little tiring, but you will be rejuvenated when you stand under the quicksilver cascade of the falls. And then, back in Mussoorie, there’s the inevitable ride up the mountain, in the cable car, to the top of Gun Hill. The mountainscapes from there are breathtaking: the Shiwaliks rise at the far end of the Doon, at your feet; the Yamuna is a glint on your far right, if you are very lucky; and the Ganga meanders away on your left, flowing on to Haridwar.

Holy Haridwar

That holy town, 54 kms from Dehra, is where the Ganga formally enters the plains. The cable-car ride soaring up to Mansa Devi Temple gives visitors an eagle’s eye view of this riverine pilgrim spot. It is, as might be expected, full of temples, shrines and ashrams offering spiritual and physical rejuvenation. Among its more unusual temples is the Sri Harihara Ashram, Kankhal. Its Parad Shivling is, reputedly, made of 151 kgs of pure mercury, but no one could explain how this metal, normally liquid, had become solid.

According to some of the pujaris of Haridwar, there are many such ‘mysteries’ here. Pilgrim spots, worldwide, tend to generate their own wonders tapping the unquestioning faith of their devotees. On a more down to earth... or should it be ‘down to river’... level, Haridwar is at its most enchanting at dusk. Try and stand at a spot across the river from the identifying clock tower of the famous Har-ki-Pauri ghat.

Then, just as the electric lights flare and before darkness comes, temple bells begin to fill the air with their chiming, clanging, tintinnabulation. At that moment, colourful pilgrims, massed on the ghats, bend down and release little leaf boats on the swiftly-flowing Ganga, each carrying a tiny, flaming lamp. Slowly, this twinkling, yellow constellation spreads across the river and begins to bob its way into the darkening horizon.

Untold centuries ago, burning cinders from the fires of creation, hissed and sparkled on the flood of this river, as it roared out of the valley of the Doon. Time, as always, has come a full circle.


  • Air: Jolly Grant Airport (24 km). IA flights from Delhi
  • Rail: Terminus for trains from Howrah, Lucknow, Mumbai and Delhi
  • Road: By taxi, state transport and private buses from Delhi (270 km)

Auto-rickshaws have no meters - rates are negotiated. ‘Vikrams’ are tempo-like vehicles which operate like mini-buses. Fares laid down according to distance. There are no yellow top cabs and a few city buses.

Drona Travels, 45, Gandhi Road. Tel: 653309 offer:

1 Half-day city tour at Rs 100 per person or Rs 630 for a full taxi.

2 Full day tour to Haridwar and Rishikesh at Rs 210 per person or Rs 1,260 for a full taxi.

3 Full day tour to Mussoorie and Kempty Falls at Rs 945 for a full taxi.

Taxi stand opposite inter-state bus station - Tel: 627877 offers:

  • Ambassador for eight hours and 80 kms at Rs 600 plus petrol.
  • Local sightseeing at Rs 450 for four and a half hours.
  • Day tour of Haridwar and Rishikesh at Rs 850.
  • Day tour of Mussoorie and Kempty Falls at Rs 850.

Dehradun is a great place to shop for woollen garments. The main places selling woollens are Sahakari Bazaar, Rajpur Road, Astley Hall, Paltan Bazaar, and Connaught Place.

For Tourist Information Contact:
Uttaranchal Regional Tourist Office
Hotel Drona
45 Gandhi Road
Tel: 653217


Ajanta Continental
Rajpur Road, Dehradun 248001
Tel: 0135-749595 Fax: 0135-747722

This 29-room hotel has two floors with a small swimming pool, closed during winter and the monsoon. The centrally air-conditioned rooms feature secretarial facilities with telex, fax and computers, besides a conference hall, multicuisine restaurant and bar.

Tariff: Deluxe Room - Rs 1,350 (single), Rs 2,100 (double)

Hotel Great Value Dehra Dun (Clarks)
74-C, Rajpur Road
Tel: 0135-744086, Fax: 0135-746058
E-mail: gvhotel@sancharnet.in

This 53-room, low-rise modern hotel features centrally air-conditioned rooms and lawns for banquets and conferences. It also has a business centre, a multicuisine restaurant and 24-hour coffee shop, besides offering travel assistance.

Tariff: Standard Room - Rs 995 (single), Rs 1,500 (double)

Hotel Meedo’s Grand
Rajpur Road, Dehradun
Tel: 0135-747171, Fax: 0135-745722
E-mail: meedogrand@sancharnet.in

This small 20-room hotel is located conveniently next to Meedos Plaza, a four-storey shopping complex. It has a multicuisine restaurant and bar.

Tariff: A/c room - Rs 800 (single), Rs 1,000 (double)

Hotel Madhuban (Best Western)
97 Rajpur Road, Dehradun 248001
Tel: 0135-749990, Fax: 0135-746496
E-mail: madhuban@nde.vsnl.net.in

This 40-room, centrally air-conditioned, well-established hotel with lawns at the back offers a mini golf course and a jogger’s trail. It is the only hotel with a health club offering complimentary gym facilities to its guests. The club also has sauna and massage facilities. It further offers a number of conference options and a well-equipped business centre.

Tariff: A/c Room - Rs 1,850 (single), Rs 2,800 (double)

Deluxe Room - Rs 3,500 (single and double)

The President Hotel
6 Astely Hall
Tel: 657082

This 17-room hotel is very conveniently located in the heart of town. It offers a conference hall and an attractive ‘Pavilion’ Restaurant that offers excellent multicuisine and Tandoori cuisine.


Yeti Restaurant
55-A, Rajpur Road
Tel: 652256

It serves Chinese, Mughalai, Continental and Thai cuisine. A Thai meal for two costs around Rs 200-250.

Udipi Restaurant
16-A Lytton Road
Tel: 657666

It offers not only South Indian, but also North Indian and Tandoori cuisine. A special South Indian thali costs Rs 65 and so does a North Indian vegetarian one. A Tandoori non-vegetarian platter costs Rs 125.

Pavilion Restaurant
6 Astely Hall
Tel: 652120

It has salad snacks, cutlets, pakoras, Continental, Indian, Tandoori and Chinese fare. A Continental meal for two could cost between Rs 300-400.

Mikado Fast Food
16-A Subhash Road
Tel: 655151

Specialising in Chinese food, it also offers pizzas and other snacks. A Chinese meal for two costs between Rs 100-150.

Kwality Restaurant
19-B Rajpur Road
Tel: 652789

It offers Indian and Chinese food. An Indian meal for two could cost Rs 150-200.

Le Chef Restaurant
72, Rajpur Road

It has a variety of fast foods like burgers, kathi rolls, pizzas and Chinese, Punjabi, Tandoori, biryanis, ice creams and shakes. A tandoori chicken sampler with dal and nan costs Rs 110 and two chocolate ice cream milk shakes cost Rs 80.